Friday, October 30, 2009

McKinley Elementary

Reviewed by Marcia Brady
The Facts
Location: 1025 14th St. (at Castro)
School hours: 7:50-1:50
Tel: 241-6300
Principal: Rosa Fong
Web site: www.mckinleyschool.org
School tours: W and F, 8:15
Grades: K-5
Kindergarten size: 67 (1 class each of 22, with 1 extra this year)
Total student body: 275

You should consider this school if you're looking for a place with:
A warm and intimate feel, racial and class diversity, and a great PTA committed to funding lots of enrichment.

Class Structure / Curriculum: GE with Spanish classes K-5 (note: not an immersion school), Special Ed. All students K-5 write daily, and each child’s writing is put on the wall on a clipboard, so they can riffle back and see how they have progressed.

Additional Programs: Adventures in Music, Harvest of the Month (native plant gardening and eating fruits and veggies), music and theater program, Environmental Science Education program at Marin Headlands (field trips for the kids, including overnights, prof’l development for the teachers). Each classroom has a planter box for gardening projects.


Campus/Playground: Modern building, exterior a bit shabby. Interior has a ski-lodge feel to it, with rough wood panels on the wall and brand-new dark red linoleum on the floors. The classrooms are arranged in a hub-and-spoke formation around a central library – the library has no walls, and is large, beautiful, and well stocked. The effect is that the library seems the center from which knowledge beams out into the classrooms. I would like to have seen more natural light coming into the interior (the windows are rice papered), but the school did feel very warm and cosy. Artwork on the walls included a ceramic mural of Victorian houses in SF, with each house done by a child. There is one bungalow for a second-grade classroom; principal says they are hoping to move that class into the main building and use bungalow for other purposes. Safely enclosed upper and lower playground protected by the hill McKinley’s on top of. Upper playground has new, beautiful Kaboom! play structure. Lower playground has one big dome-shaped jungle gym. Parents have been “greening” the facility with terraced gardens, plants, etc.

After School programs: After School Enrichment Program (ASEP), 1:50-6:00 PM for $250/month. Scholarships available, space not guaranteed but they have accommodated all this year’s K students.

PTA: Has grown from 15 to 200 strong. McKinley has just phased out of Title 1, so the PTA has taken over the funding lost. They raised $110,000 last year including playground, goal this year is $100K. PTA is split into committees for grant-writing, “passive” fundraising (e-scrip, etc.), special events, and annual outreach. Right now their priority is to maintain the enrichment programs that will be cut in all SFUSD schools next year (science, art, library, etc.)

Language program(s): Spanish language and Latino culture enrichment classes, coordinated with the rest of the curriculum.

Library / Computer Lab: See above for library. Lots of computer terminals – couldn’t get close enough to count, but I’d say at least 25. Kids have library with a librarian 1x/week, computer class 1x/week beginning in 3rd grade. Teachers and parents can come to library anytime with kids to check ou book.

Arts: Artist-in-residence program

PE: 2x/week, coach on site MWF, emphasis on teaching teachers new skills and games to do with their kids.

Recess/Lunch: 20-minute AM recess, 30-40 minute lunch/recess in PM.

Parking: New street drop-off program to replace use of a playground for drop-off. Parents and 5th graders escort dropped off kids to school. Neighborhood parking is tough.

Tour Impressions: We met in the “Cafegymnatorium,” a large multipurpose room, where we were serenaded by a parent trio of piano, clarinet, and violin playing “All of Me” and other songs. This is apparently a parent-run extra for every Weds. morning, not just to impress those of us on tour! But it gave a welcoming and festive feel to the tour. Principal Fong ran the tour, and showed us almost every classroom from K-5, so we could get a feel for the whole school.

We began with the K rooms, which were large, with individual desks clustered in work stations. (“Who are these people?” asked one child. “They’re crowding us!”). Both K rooms had a kitchen play area, Legos and other manipulatives, and a wooden dollhouse among other toys. Each K teacher spoke for a bit, which is unusual for a tour – one talked about using the writing time to allow kids to socialize a bit and to pull kids to work on special skills. In another K room the kids were doing worksheets, tracing letters and coloring art. In a third one, the principal asked the kids to tell us what they are learning (“Halloweens stuff!” “Family!” “How to Write”). Interestingly, the SFUSD kindergarten Content Standards were posted on huge poster board outside of each classroom. In the 2nd grade classroom, a teacher had cut a paragraph into sentences and mixed them up, asking students to put the paragraph back together by finding the topic sentences, transitional sentences, etc. Also, for whatever it is worth, these were the most racially diverse classrooms I have seen on a tour: about 1/3 Latino, 1/3 white, and the other third split between African American and Asian. The upper grades looked a bit less mixed, with more Latino and African American kids. Since I know some people are concerned about their kid being in a small minority, I include this info. at the risk of sounding like it's my pet issue, which it isn't. I'm more concerned about alternative family structures, which are well represented there.

Among the many things we heard about was discipline – here they use red, yellow, and green cards (blue for excellence). The teacher moves the cards out from behind each other, so a new color peeking out indicates where behavior is headed. While I am not a fan of “evaluative” discipline, I found the principal’s explanation thought-provoking: she said that this was actually less shaming than reprimanding a student in front of others, as students were keenly attentive to their own cards but tended not to notice those of others. So I guess I am learning a bit about classroom management!

There is a strong LGBTQ parent community at McKinley, not surprising given the location in the Castro, and they meet regularly and do their own outreach. We also heard about staff retention – 100%, and about student teachers who begged to stay on. This principal offered something others have not: her e-mail address for questions (principal@mckinleyschool.org, answermaven@mickinleyschool.org).

Overall: I found McKinley to be a vibrant, cohesive school with a principal who clearly has vision, and a very committed PTA. Obviously, it’s not the school for you if you are dead set on immersion, but it looks like a great GE option for those who are OK with just Spanish enrichment. McKinley appears to be very much up-and-coming, and both the parents and principal were extremely welcoming and generous.

34 comments:

  1. Another helpful review, Marcia Brady--thanks for your thoroughness and focus on the elements that distinguish each school.

    Based on the numbers I wouldn't think of McKinley as a fallback or safety school in lottery terms, but it's not wildly out of reach like some--a definite good pick for one of your seven if you live in central SF or surrounding neighborhoods, or it is on your commute route.

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  2. For the record, I think the principal is underestimating child interest in each other's behavior cards (or clips, or what have you). Of course, this interest is not necessarily negative - I've seen kids help other kids who is maybe struggling a little.

    From my perspective as a teacher, these systems have positives and negatives, and it all really depends on use. I would say one critical thing to know is if the child is always aware of the reason for which his or her card/clip is changed/moved. If they don't - and one cannot assume that they do - the system cannot help young children learn to self-regulate, be good citizens, etc. - it's just an arbitrary system.

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  3. The lack of direct light struck me as well. I also was not that impressed by the principal...maybe it was an off day for her. My gut was a "no" with respect to McKinley. For its popularity, it just did not seem to be a good fit for us and it is a bit of a commute so I would not want to waste one of my 7 spots on the school.

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  4. I've got two children at McKinley, and those cards work awfully well, I must say. The kids actually spend most of their time delighting in their green cards. And the other colors are handed out very, very sparingly.

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  5. I love love love McKinley and I think Rosa Fong is a great principal who had a tough act to follow in Bonnie Coffey-Smith. My daughter went there for two years as a preschooler (at the time they had a Pre-K class there, long story) and the feeling even then -- before the school gentrified -- was warm and welcoming. Yes, the facility is kind of 1970s. But the gestalt is great. OMG the School Olympics they do every year is a case in point!

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  6. Rosa Fong is an AWESOME principal. She is very warm, energetic, and caring!

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  7. THis school is UP and COMING. I've talked with parents who really like this school. HEllo Spanish class twice a week. What nice exposure. FYI Adventures in Music is a district wide program led by the San Francisco Symphony. It sponsors one concert a year for all the grades to Davies Hall ( I don't think for K) and four (Queartet or trio like high end) concerts a year at EACH school.

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  8. We put McKinley first last year and got it in round 1. Now our daughter is in kindergarten there and loving it. For those of you who tour it and feel a surge of inexplicable warmth and belonging, you will not be disappointed. It's real! Fight hard to get in and you'll be grateful every day that you did. For those worried about windows and behavior cards or who want an art studio on campus, maybe it's not the place for you. There are definitely more romantic buildings out there to put on your list.

    As for Rosa Fong, I don't know much more a parent could want in a principal--she's bright and experienced, tireless, extremely respectful to the children, approachable (she's everywhere, all the time, every day), full of big plans for the school and has a great sense of humor on top of all that.

    The best thing about McKinley's some-love-it-some-hate-it effect on prospective parents is that the ones who love it fight to get in and the community thrives because of that. Everyone who is there wants to be, and it shows. It really is "The little school with the big heart!"

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  9. Looks like the "up and coming" schools, like McKinley have already arrived on most folks radar. I found it ironic that June did not seem to care for Alamo (a top 11 school) but enjoyed Lafeyette. I look at the stats and sigh...all of these schools seem impossible to get into.

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  10. 2:22, Webster and Flynn GE don't seem fully on the radar except here in the SE. McKinley isn't gaining from the flood into immersion programs, and seems really eager for incoming families who are committed to their GE program. I haven't done Revere yet, but the buzz over here is that it's up and coming too. Then there are places like Serra and Glen Park, doing a good job outside the limelight. I don't think it's hopeless, but I guess some of the success of these schools depends on families willing to make a "reverse commute" down here, or on SE parents getting on board to *not* shoot the moon for Grattalomarendontop.

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  11. For the record, the windows at McKinley are going to be replaced next year and I believe the building will get a fresh coat of paint as well. There are more plans in the works, but I cannot recall them at the moment.

    McKinley is a fun and colorful school. The ASEP after school program is stellar. My daughter just entered Kindergarten and adores it. Lots of enrichment classes, TONS of field trips and teachers who really love kids.

    Rosa Fong is a lovely, warm and personable principal. The director of my daughter's old preschool was extremely impressed when I told her that she knows my daughter's name after only a month of her being there. I know Principal Fong cares for all of the students at McKinley deeply and always has an easy smile and kind word for each child. We are so lucky to have her!

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  12. Marcia Brady said:
    "I don't think it's hopeless, but I guess some of the success of these schools depends on families willing to make a "reverse commute" down here, or on SE parents getting on board to *not* shoot the moon for Grattalomarendontop."

    First of all, love the term Grattalomarendontop!!! (But can we add a few syllables to make it Grattalilenlomarendontop?)

    Thanks for the sentiments. I would also add, to 2:22 that you should make a distinction between FIRST CHOICE requests and TOTAL requests. Many of these schools get a lot of requests, but don't get as many first choice requests. That can make a difference in your odds.

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  13. "2:22, Webster and Flynn GE don't seem fully on the radar except here in the SE. McKinley isn't gaining from the flood into immersion programs, and seems really eager for incoming families who are committed to their GE program. I haven't done Revere yet, but the buzz over here is that it's up and coming too."

    Don't forget Moscone and E.R. Taylor. Not 100% chance of getting in, but very strong GE programs.

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  14. Also consider SF Community (but not if your kid is high energy and needs a lot of structure, as kids like that won't do well in a project-based learning environment.)

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  15. Hey 11/2, 9:20 am:
    Not to hijack this thread (I toured McKinley and thought it had a great feel to it), but can someone say more about this comment:

    "Also consider SF Community (but not if your kid is high energy and needs a lot of structure, as kids like that won't do well in a project-based learning environment.)"

    My kid is high energy, but I have no idea how she'd do in a project-based learning environment. Without knowing much about it, it sounds interesting. Why is this hard for high energy kids in general? ...I had assumed the high energy kids would do BETTER in that kind of engaging environment, vs. being tied to those Houghton Mifflin workbooks. Can anyone comment on this (again, sorry to hijack the thread)?

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  16. (but not if your kid is high energy and needs a lot of structure, as kids like that won't do well in a project-based learning environment.)

    I teach Kindergarten and I really and truly disagree with this statement. Structure does not cause active, impulsive kids with short attention spans to learn, and arguably the open-ended systems in a project-based, integrated theme program are exactly what such kids need.

    I feel like the prescription for high-energy kids is boot camp, or at least rigidity. But think about it: lots of the things we ask kids to do in classrooms are strange, even contrary to what we know about child development. Where else do we raise our hands to speak? To line up and proceed only in an orderly - or even line-ordered - fashion? To get something to drink only at break time? To sit criss-cross applesauce for forty-five minutes?

    Low-structure, child-centered classrooms can be a boon to the high-energy child providing that the teacher has systems and procedures that allow that child to succeed. I don't think the answer for really active kids is to sit still longer, you know?

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  17. "Don't forget Moscone and E.R. Taylor. Not 100% chance of getting in, but very strong GE programs."

    Moscone struck me as very similar to McKinley in terms of a very traditional approach to the three "R's".
    At least that was my impression when we toured 2 years ago.

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  18. "Moscone struck me as very similar to McKinley in terms of a very traditional approach to the three "R's".
    At least that was my impression when we toured 2 years ago."

    The principal at Moscone taught at McKinley earlier in her career, so it's not surprising their pedagogy is similar.

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  19. "[L]ots of the things we ask kids to do in classrooms are strange, even contrary to what we know about child development. Where else do we raise our hands to speak? To line up and proceed only in an orderly - or even line-ordered - fashion? To get something to drink only at break time? To sit criss-cross applesauce for forty-five minutes?"

    Can you imagine what would happen if adults were subjected to these conditions? We'd all be filing Supreme Court cases!

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  20. "I teach Kindergarten and I really and truly disagree with this statement. Structure does not cause active, impulsive kids with short attention spans to learn, and arguably the open-ended systems in a project-based, integrated theme program are exactly what such kids need."

    Depends on the teacher, really. One of the teachers at SF Community (a male teacher) was very good at containing the energy in the class: I'm sure they could deal with whatever kid was thrown at them. One was struggling a bit to keep order: I saw the project-based nature of the tasks the kids were doing was making her life more difficult.

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  21. "Can you imagine what would happen if adults were subjected to these conditions? We'd all be filing Supreme Court cases!"

    That's funny!
    But then again, I think adults are subjected to those conditions all the time--in college classes, in business meetings, in Q & A periods at literary events...we sit still for long periods, raise our hands to indicate we'd like to add to the discussion, wait until a break to use the bathroom or get a drink, file through doorways in an orderly way rather than in a dangerous stampede... I'm not arguing that there aren't other ways to structure a classroom, perfectly good ways I'm sure, but maybe it's not unreasonable to expect children to begin to learn self-control in group settings. It seems like an important part of social development, being a respectful and patient member of a community. But maybe I have a more traditional point of view about the role of school, where the institution teaches how to get along and learn within an institution and after school time is unstructured free time where you learn how to question authority!

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  22. Okay, 10:12 AM, here are the rules:

    1. You must sit quietly at your desk all day without speaking to the person at the next desk.
    2. You may not eat or drink anything at any time outside of your appointed break time.
    3. You may not have any personal items on your desk.
    4. You may not make or receive any personal phone calls during the day.
    5. You may use the bathroom only during your scheduled break or by special permission from your boss. To get permission you must raise your hand and make your request in front of everyone else in your office.
    6. You may leave your office only in the company of your boss, and when you do you must walk quietly in a line along with everyone else in your office.
    7. You are expected to attend diligently to your work without daydreaming, procrastinating, or distraction all day.

    My point isn't that it is unreasonable to structure a classroom in this way, or that these are not necessary skills for children to learn, but you really have to appreciate how artificial this system is and how stressful it can be for children, as it would be for most of us. And most of the time they handle it remarkably well, far better than I would.

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  23. Whoah - how did we get so far off the subject of McKinley specifically?

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  24. 5:16 PM, perhaps you have noticed that the comments section of a blog is more like a conversation than a structured discussion: someone brings up a point and everyone talks about it, and then that reminds someone of a different point and they change the subject and we all discuss that for a while. If you don't want to talk to these people anymore you politely excuse yourself or just listen quietly. It's what grownups do.

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  25. I'm not 5:16, but 6:36, your remarks seem unkind. There is truth in what you're saying, but no need to make somehow seeking out information feel like an idiot, or a child.

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  26. 6:36 -

    I agree with 6:40. Your comments and tone are rather harsh. It's perfectly appropriate for 5:16 to gently remind us to return to the topic at hand.

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  27. Depends on the teacher, really. One of the teachers at SF Community (a male teacher) was very good at containing the energy in the class: I'm sure they could deal with whatever kid was thrown at them. One was struggling a bit to keep order: I saw the project-based nature of the tasks the kids were doing was making her life more difficult.

    I am the teacher who commented, and I agree with your point. But it's the teacher, not the pedagogy, that causes the sense of order/disorder. A project-based and free-form looking system will have procedures that are transparent to students and potentially invisible to people observing.

    For instance, children in my Kindergarten are welcome to fidget and move around provided that a. they are engaged (and able to prove that engagement if requested) b. not distracting other kids. If you walked through my classroom, this might look disorganized to you. But students are aware of the policy and its limits.

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  28. I'm not arguing that there aren't other ways to structure a classroom, perfectly good ways I'm sure, but maybe it's not unreasonable to expect children to begin to learn self-control in group settings.

    Not requiring hand-raising is not the same as not requiring self-regulation. Among other things, since I don't require a highly structured protocol for most activities in my classroom, I have to make sure that students know these protocols exist and that others might require them. Otherwise, they will have a hard time in other classes, with guest teachers, etc. I think it's about transparency.

    It seems like an important part of social development, being a respectful and patient member of a community.

    Yes, definitely. But what makes one a valued and socially competent person at work is different than what makes one valued and socially competent at home. Socially competent behavior is not universal among ethnolinguistic groups either and varies regionally. I think drawing students' attention to these differences so that they can adapt to divergent contexts is critical.

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  29. The Spanish language class is taught in English, I kid you not. What we saw of it on the tour was pathetic, a list of "what not to do" when teaching a language to young kids.

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